Fascinating and detailed paper by Richard Cleminson examining the appalling treatment of Spanish anti-fascist resistance fighters during World War II being detained in internment camps in Britain alongside Nazi and fascist prisoners.
Originally published by Libcom. Written by Richard Cleminson. Image above: Spanish anti-fascist prisoners standing at the entrance to the Chorley camp. The authorities allowed them to erect this board so that they would not be confused by the local population with fascist POWs. Photograph taken by Marie Louise Berneri. Reproduced from a private archive.
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This article assesses the significance of the experiences of 226 Spanish antifascists
and republicans  who were detained in France in the autumn of 1944 and
transported to Britain as prisoners of war (POWs) of the Allied army. After
arriving in different batches at Southampton, they were interned in POW camps
across the country before being moved to Hall o’ the Hill Camp, near Chorley,
Lancashire, where most remained until their final release in 1946. This article
sets the peculiar circumstances of their detention in the context of the personal,
local and international situation surrounding them and documents the multifaceted
campaign for their release which was articulated by trade unions, political
organizations, national newspapers and some prominent figures in British
society. In doing so, a contribution is made to the history of the diaspora of the
opposition to Franco and to the history of POWs in Britain in the period
 Not all of those interned were simply ‘republicans’, many were anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists as well. All were, however, anti-fascists. In press reports, they
were referred to as ‘anti-fascists’ or ‘republicans’. Here, both terms are used. A further clarification needed is that the camp at which the Spaniards arrived was referred to variously as Adlington, Chorley, Hall o’ the Hill and Heath Charnock.
Some 35 million men and women were held as prisoners of war (POWs)
during the course of World War II (Beaumont 2007: 535; MacKenzie
1994: 487). The 226 Spaniards detained as POWs in Chorley were, therefore,
a very small proportion of the number of prisoners held, for in Britain
alone there were over 150,000 Italian POWs in 1944 (Moore 2005: 31).
Yet their case is worth highlighting because of the peculiar and apparently
unique circumstances of their detention by the Allied forces.1 While earlier
studies of POWs concentrated primarily on the experience of the prisoners
in the camps, more recent accounts have examined governmental policy
towards their capture and the negotiations over their future (Beaumont
2007: 535–36; Moore and Fedorowich 1996: 1–2). In tune with these
newer approaches, this article seeks to make a novel, although modest,
contribution to POW history in Britain. Despite their small numbers in the
midst of the half a million Spaniards exiled as a result of the civil war, this
case constitutes a contribution to the research on all the Spaniards who
fought against Franco, who were imprisoned in concentration camps in
Spain and other countries or were forced into exile.
In addition, this piece shows how ‘Spain’ still fired the imagination and
material solidarity of some sectors of the British left beyond the end of the civil war into the 1940s. Finally, this article examines what ‘captivity’
(Lagrou 2005: 3) as POWs signified and how those Spaniards who fought
to stay on in England after their release in mid-1946 ‘made a home’ in
what was for them a foreign country.
The aftermath of the Spanish civil war:
displacement, concentration camps and exile
Following a preliminary phase of first-person accounts of concentration
camps and exile, a vibrant and extensive field has analysed the cultural
dimensions of the Spanish exile (Alted Vigil 2005; Caudet 2005; Kamen
2007), the experience of the Retirada (Gemie 2006), concentration camps
in Spain (Rodrigo 2005), the participation of Spaniards in regular Allied
armies or in the Resistance (Stein 1979), the fate of Spaniards in Nazi concentration
and extermination camps (García-Maroto 1997; Rafaneau-Boj
1995), the setting up of political networks and the experience of making a
home in a foreign land (Alted Vigil 2006; Dreyfus-Armand 1999; Vilanova i
The most immediate destination for displaced Spaniards was neighbouring
France. When France fell, some 10,000 Spaniards who had
escaped the civil war, Nationalist retribution or who had fought against
the Axis powers were taken prisoner by the forces of the ‘Third Reich’.
Several thousand Spaniards, including many of those detained in Chorley,
were enrolled as forced labourers of the Todt organization in the construction
of the Atlantic Wall (Dalmau n.d.; Pike 1993: 54–56; Pons Prades
2005: 312–18; Willmot 2002: 212–13).
For those who managed to avoid such a fate, the countries of Latin
America, especially Mexico, were a favoured refuge. The number of
Spanish anti-fascists or republicans admitted at the end of the civil war
into the United Kingdom, by contrast, was very small and the government
of Neville Chamberlain set up stringent conditions in order to admit only
‘very respectable’ (London 2000: 114) refugees of a certain ‘calidad intelectual’
(Lloréns 1976: 119). Apart from these small groups of intellectuals,
preceded, for example, by 4000 Basque children in 1937 (Bell 2007;
Benjamin 2007; Cloud 1937; Legarreta 1984), and some fifty anarchists,
some of whom settled for a short time in the Tolstoyan community at
Whiteway, near Stroud (Richards 1990: 10; Thacker 1993: 132–35),
there were few cases of ‘ordinary’ Spaniards making their way to Britain
as a route out of war and persecution (some were admitted to Britain on
the fall of France in 1940: see Alted Vigil 2005: 260). In part, this stance
grew out of a desire not to alienate Franco by giving refuge to republican
supporters. Military chiefs of staff sought to keep Franco out of any
European war or delay his entry as long as possible, and the presence of
prominent republicans was in danger of undermining Franco’s goodwill
towards Britain (Smyth 1985). The Chorley Spaniards were apparently the
only group captured and initially considered as Axis supporters to be
brought to England as POWs.
The British government, Spain and the politics of POWs
The British stance of ‘non-intervention’ in the Spanish civil war was driven
by the concern for the fate of British commercial interests in Spain, the
fear of the rise of leftist movements and the hope that fascist regimes could
be contained as part of an early dimension of a policy of appeasement
(Moradiellos 1999). The Conservatives recognized the Franco government
before the end of the war on 27 February 1939 and the following day,
Pablo de Azcárate, the republican ambassador since August 1936, was
displaced by the Duke of Alba as Franco Spain’s representative (Edwards
1979: 188–92; Watkins 1963).
Despite the British government favouring Franco during the civil war
and the ensuing years (Buchanan 2007; Moradiellos 2002, 2005), there
was concern over the position of Franco towards the Axis powers beyond
the diplomatic and strategic aid he afforded them. In addition, what to do
precisely with any Spaniards in Britain ‘in the event of war with Spain’
was a matter raised in the early months of World War II (Newsam 1940).
If Spain came in actively on the Axis side, it was suggested that ‘the females
were harmless’, but that all male known Falangists aged 16–70 years be
seized and held in internment (Farquar 1940; on internment generally, see Gillman and Gillman 1980). However, as the possibility of war between
Britain and Spain receded, it would appear that no Spaniards were in fact
interned during the period 1940–45,2 although there were an estimated
‘sixty-odd’ Falangists out of 2786 Spaniards in Britain.3
Considerations towards Spain and Spanish emigrés in 1945 were a
world away from the stance taken by the British government in 1939 or
1940 (cf. Smyth 1985). Once World War II was over, the quantity of displaced
persons and what to do with imprisoned Axis soldiers presented a
post-war situation of enormous complexity (Cere 1995; Moore 1997:
117). Spanish nationals captured outside of Spain presented but one side
of this complex picture. Often, the authorities only had the prisoners’ word
to go on as to their ideological or military affiliation. For example, some
126 Spaniards in the British zone Displaced Persons’ Camps in Germany
could not be confirmed as either republicans or Falangists (Harvey 1945).
Such difficulties of identification meant that some of the Spaniards
brought to Britain were initially interned in the holding camp of Glen Mill,
Oldham, as Axis supporters before being moved to Chorley.4 In their case,
it would take until August 1945 before officials dropped the notion that
they had fought for the Blue Division against the Russians, which was officially
disbanded in May 1944 (Anon 1945a; see also Bowen 2000:
106–23, 166–74; Leitz 2000: 114–43). The British government, however,
was attuned to the complexities thrown up by the post-war situation in
respect of Spanish nationals. In addition to information arriving from the
republican ambassador Azcárate and the National Joint Committee for
Spanish Relief on the subject of the situation of thousands of Spaniards in
German extermination camps (Azcárate 1945; National Joint Committee
for Spanish Relief 1945), the Foreign Office was aware that for many
Spaniards it was not a simple case of being able to go back home. It was
acknowledged that, despite the amnesty granted by Franco allowing for
the return of Spaniards who had no major involvement in the ‘antinational’
movement, the fate of potential returnees was not at all secure
(Mason 1945) and the terms of Franco’s amnesty were not generous
The governmental stance with respect to Spain was, however, only one
side of the story. Voluntary and political associations had a long history of
engagement with matters related to the Spanish war, whether through the
International Brigades, the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief,
the reception of the Basque children or the establishment of ‘Spanish Aid’
committees around the country (Alpert 1984; Bell 2007: 7; Buchanan
1991a, 1991b, 2007: passim; Fyrth 1986, 1993), despite both the Labour
Party and Trades Union Congress having accepted non-intervention in
their 1936 congresses (Fleay and Sanders 1985; Vickers 2003: 121).
Aid and political campaigning for republican Spain continued after the
end of World War II, although it took on a different form. It now focused
on petitioning the newly elected Labour government for sanctions against
Franco, alleviating suffering in Spain and supporting imprisoned Spaniards outside of the country. Such deeply rooted solidarity with Spain would
form part of the support given to the Chorley Spaniards.
From Southampton to Kirkham to Chorley:
the journey of the Spanish internees
There has been some discussion of the Chorley Spaniards but these are not
detailed accounts (Alexander 1992: 44–45; Birtill 1976: 48–52; Cleminson
2006; Macdonald 1987: 108–09; Ward and Goodway 2003: 33, 45). The
most extensive account of how some Spaniards arrived at Chorley is that of
one of the detainees, ‘E.J.C.’, probably Eduardo Castro, whose story is recorded
in a pamphlet published in October 1945 by the Morecambe and District
Spanish Aid Committee. Castro commanded the 12th Brigade of the IV
Division of the Maquis (Anon 1945b). Castro’s account starts in a concentration
camp in France in 1939. He and many others were delivered en masse to
the Nazis for work on the coastal defences: ‘In Bordeaux the Germans gave us
documents with our names, and with the description “Spanish Red”’. Some
escaped, some were given certificates by the French authorities to avoid
further forced recruitment and others joined the Maquis (Castro 1945: 7).
On the Allied victory in France, some 79 Spaniards, including Castro,
detained in the towns of Cousances-aux-Forges and Chamouilley, presented
themselves to the Maquis on 29 September 1944 (p. 8). American
army officials, however, took them to a POW camp in the company of Nazi
prisoners. From Revigny, they were taken to Compiègne camp. Here they
remained a fortnight, were given ‘a spoonful of soup a day’ and were so
weak that they could not stand. ‘One of our comrades who tried to pick up
some apples’, another detainee, José Ferri Verdú noted, ‘was shot down by
an American soldier’ (Berneri 1945). The prisoners were then taken to
Chartres and made to march twenty miles to another camp. As the prisoners
were marched along, together with two or three thousand Germans,
French bystanders hurled insults at them as collaborators. The journey
then proceeded to Cherbourg where they embarked for Southampton on
6th October, landing on the following day (Castro 1945: 9–10). They were
subsequently transferred to a POW camp with Nazi prisoners. Such a fate,
surprising though it may at first sight appear, was not unusual for those
held as Axis prisoners. The British government was concerned about the
ability to house prisoners adequately in northern France and about the
poor treatment of POWs in French hands (Moore 1996a, 1996b, 2000),
and this led to large numbers being transferred to Britain.
Castro’s group was soon moved to Camp 186 in Colchester and then to
the former Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) Camp 168, Brookmill,
Woodlands, at Kirkham. Here they were joined by another group of some
100 Spaniards who had come from Camp 176 at Glen Mill, Oldham.
Further groups of Spaniards arrived from Camps 17 (Lodge Moor Camp,
Sheffield), 166 (Woollaton Park Camp, Nottingham) and 174 (Norton
Camp, Mansfield) (see Thomas 2003). At the beginning of June, 29 more
arrived at Kirkham having been in Guernsey (Anon 1945c, 1945d). Their continued internment with Nazis and the lack of response from
the British authorities so frustrated the Spaniards that they declared a
hunger strike from 26 June 1945, but this was eventually overshadowed
by a more serious occurrence: the suicide of one prisoner, Agustín Soler,
on 11 July 1945, ‘a martyr to his own democratic ideals, [he] preferred to
die rather than have to associate with his enemies the Nazi Fascists’
(Castro 1945: 11).
It was the Reynolds News, the paper linked to the Co-operative Party,
which was the first to report on Agustín Soler’s suicide and thus raise the
story of the Spaniards’ imprisonment in an article entitled ‘Loneliest Men
in England Today’ in late July 1945. According to the newspaper, the men
were ‘bitterly weary’ of imprisonment and some had declared that ‘rather
than a life of confinement, they will kill themselves’ (Anon 1945e). The
concern over the treatment of POWs after the tit-for-tat tying of prisoners’
hands in the autumn of 1942 (MacKenzie 1994: 491–92) and the shooting
of a Nazi soldier by a guard at the Glen Mill camp in February 1945
was felt acutely by the British government (Moore 1996b: 52). Combined
with the fact that one Spaniard had been punished at the nearby camp at
Heysham by being handcuffed to a cooker for 24 h (Anon 1945f), the
suicide of Agustín Soler was a pressing motive entailing the transfer of the
men to the Chorley camp.
The campaign for the Spaniards’ release begins
The Reynolds News had since its inception been associated with ‘progressive’
causes and although it was not as influential as the national more strictly
commercial press, the situation of the Spaniards was fast to become a
national issue. This was not only for local campaigners and press but also
more widely afield amongst some MPs, numerous trade union branches, the
national press such as The Manchester Guardian and for renowned figures
somehow connected with Spain, such as George Orwell and Gerald Brenan.5
The men’s situation was taken up with different intensities and motivations
across the leftist press. The first accounts in anarchist and communist newspapers
referred, respectively, to ‘a situation of the most flagrant injustice’
(Anon 1945g), whereby anti-fascists were being held behind barbed wire
while their former overseers in Jersey and Guernsey walked free (Anon
1945h). The responsibility for the men’s condition was placed at the door of
both the Foreign Office, which had washed its hands of the Spaniards as they
‘had no government’, and the War Office, which had at no time ‘questioned
the bona-fides of these men’ (Anon 1945i; Wild 1945).
The men slowly gathered high-level support. MPs such as C.W.
Dumpleton, MP for St. Albans, wrote in August to the Minister for War,
Jack Lawson,6 on behalf of a trade union branch in his constituency. In the
response, Dumpleton was assured that the men had been captured in
Normandy and the Channel Islands wearing the uniforms of the Todt organization.
Dumpleton was also informed, however, that discussions between
the Home Secretary, War Office and Foreign Office had determined that the men should indeed be released, not in the United Kingdom, but in
France, from where a reply was awaited (Freeman 1945).
Other trade unions from places outside Lancashire, such as Liverpool
and Brighton, also wrote to Lawson (Barton 1945; Pugh 1945). Local
trade union organizations, such as the Manchester and Salford Trades
Council, were instructed by a delegate meeting to write to Lawson communicating
a resolution on the Spaniards’ case (Newbold 1945), which
highlighted the fact that the Spaniards were ‘the first anti-fascist fighters
in Europe, and should be released and given the opportunity to help with
the reconstruction of Europe’ (Newbold 1945; see also Anon 1945j).
This early phase of the campaign appears to have had some effect. Even
though it did not secure the prisoners’ immediate release, it did result in
some improvements in camp conditions. The anarchist paper Freedom
reported in early September with some satisfaction that ‘As a result of agitation,
certain concessions have been granted to the Spaniards interned in
the prisoner of war camp in Lancashire’ (Anon 1945k). These included an
increase in rations and permission to use the dress of ‘co-operators’ rather
than prisoners’ uniforms and be employed in paid work, a status given to
many Italian POWs after the surrender of Italy (Moore 1997: 129–30;
Moore 2005: 31; Sponza 1996). But the fundamental issue of the Spaniards’
POW status remained unchanged, despite their designation as ‘co-operators’.
The suspicion of Nazi sympathies lingered.
Despite the agreement to release the Spaniards, progress on the question
of the British government’s negotiation with France was slow. In a bid
to assert more pressure on the government, a sixty-strong trade union delegation
arrived at Chorley on 16 September 1945. In the report arising
out of the visit (International Brigade Association n.d.), once again the antifascist
credentials of the now 223 prisoners at the camp were asserted.7
Other organizations, such as the Independent Labour Party (ILP), long
associated with support for the Spanish Republic (Buchanan 2007:
98–121; Mates 2007: passim), published articles in its weekly The New
Leader and sent protests to Lawson (Burgess 1945), as did the National
Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) (Allen 1945).
This combined pressure was strong enough to merit a discussion of the
Spaniards in the House of Commons on 9 October 1945. Lawson was questioned
by a trio of MPs, Mr. Thomas Cook (Dundee), Mr. Thomas Scollan
(West Renfrew) and Mr. Cyril Dumpleton (St. Albans) on the reasons
behind the Spaniards’ continued detention as POWs. In his response,
Lawson relied on the Todt association to justify their imprisonment: ‘These
Spanish nationals were captured as serving members of an enemy paramilitary
organisation and they are correctly held as prisoners of war. The question
of their disposal is under urgent consideration’ (Lawson 1945a). Such
a response satisfied few, however. Nan Green, the Secretary of the
International Brigade Association, tackled Lawson later that month on the
subject of his reply to these MPs and refuted his assertion that the men
were being held correctly as enemy POWs (Green 1945).
The local campaign and life in the Chorley camp
The legacy of supporting republican and anti-fascist Spain during the
years of the civil war provided an infrastructure that was to remain in
British society for some years to come. The Newcastle Spanish Medical Aid
Committee, for example, helped remaining Basque children until 1942
(Mates 2007: 146). Kapp and Mynatt (1997: 39) note that much of the
support for Austrian, German and Czech refugees in Britain during World
War II was built on local committees arising out of the care of the Basques.
Just as the Morecambe Spanish Aid Committee had campaigned on behalf of
the Spaniards detained at Kirkham, a Chorley-based Spanish Republican
Aid Committee formed in late August championed their cause. The principal
aims of the Chorley organization were ‘to obtain release and political
refugee status for the Republicans in camp at Heath Charnock [,] to raise
money for this end and provision of comforts before and after’ (Anon
1945l). This would be a non-sectarian organization and it hoped to invite
the clergy and even members of the Conservative Party to join its cause.
The Committee rapidly organized a ‘Spanish Fiesta’ at the Empire Cinema
in late August where the internees, in the presence of the president of
the International Brigade Association, Sam Wild, the cinema manager
Mr. F. Byrne, Dr. F.H. Tyrer (President), Mr. G. Bancks (Secretary) and
many locals, in the words of the Chorley Guardian, played music on an ‘odd
assortment of guitarros and bandurros made with penknives from odd
scraps of timber [. . .] [which] seemed to produce a magical effect [. . .] not
wholly due to the novelty of the situation’ (Anon 1945m). This musical
pageant was followed by a ‘mass meeting’ at the Chorley Hippodrome on
16 September to further highlight the Spaniards’ case. Here, the Aid
Committee expressed ‘its indignation at the injustice which has been done
to the anti-Fascist fighters of Spain, who, after almost a year in Britain are
still prisoners-of-war in the Hall o’ the Hill camp’ (Bancks 1945).
The camp, a former Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) hostel (Anon
1945c), where there was ‘no barbed wire and no sentries’, a marked
improvement on Kirkham (Anon 1945n), was run along the lines of a
British army camp (Freedom Defence Committee 1946). The routine was as
follows: at 07.00 reveille, followed by an inspection at 07.45 and breakfast
at 08.00. Work started at 09.00 and there was an inspection of the barracks
at 11.00. Lunch was at 13.00 followed by a four-hour stretch of work
until 18.00, when supper was served. At 22.00 there was ‘formation’ and
rest at 22.15. Any Spaniard who wished to leave the camp had to request
permission from an officer and had to be back at the camp by 23.59, for
which a pass would be provided. Discipline was in accordance with POW
rules and the green co-operator’s uniform would be worn, except when permission
was given to wear civilian clothes. Wages would be the same as
those received by Italian co-operators. Letters could only be sent and
received within the British Empire and it was forbidden to communicate
with other camps, government departments and the press, except through
the camp Commander (Freedom Defence Committee 1946: 6–7).
Privations were, evidently, acute, but the local Committee and other
supporters such as the anarchist Marie Louise Berneri organized relief for
the internees. Berneri asked the readers of the anarchist Freedom to send
stamps (‘which will enable them to write to their family and friends’),
tooth paste and tooth brushes, coffee (‘the Spaniards are not tea drinkers’)
and Spanish and French books (Berneri 1945). Such items were duly
received gratefully by the internees. On 13 October 1945, Gregorio Segura,
the elected camp spokesman, wrote to M.L. Berneri to thank her for ‘las
13 libras de café, 33 toothbruches [sic] y 13 tubos de pasta para los dientes’
(Segura 1945). In one case, supplies were even sent from overseas, by the
Alexander Berkman Fund of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in
Chicago (Ferri Verdú 1946).
The road to release
Despite the efforts of their various defenders, the Spaniards remained in
the Chorley camp into the winter of 1945. The campaign did not let up,
however, and saw the presence of four camp delegates at the quarterly
meeting of the Lancashire and Cheshire Federation of Trades Councils at the
Houldsworth Hall in Manchester in November 1945. At the meeting, James
Hennessy, the Secretary of the Federation, spoke to counter the association
with the Nazis. It was time, in the words of another speaker, for the government
to stop ‘passing the buck’ between departments and get on with preparations
for the Spaniards’ release (Anon 1945o; cf. Hennessy 1945).
Less than a month after the meeting at the Houldsworth Hall, the
promised negotiations with France had eventually begun to bear their
fruits. On 12 December it was reported by the Daily Worker that British
detention officers had recently visited the camp and had taken the names
of those men wishing to go to France (Anon 1945p; see also Anon
1945q). Some men, however, ‘were quite definite about wanting to stay in
this country’ (Anon 1945r). Two days later, on 14 December, Lawson
(1945b) finally announced that the French government had agreed to
allow all the Spaniards to settle in France where they would return as ‘free
men’. But certain restrictions were to remain. Not only did Lawson repeat
a by now somewhat muddled allegation of collaboration (the men ‘were
either wearing German uniforms or were in German organizations. At the
time of the German invasion of France they were refugees from Franco
Spain’), he also stated that to allow them to remain in Britain ‘would be to
give them an advantage over the very many thousands of other aliens who
are anxious to settle here’. After some clarification required by the Chorley
MP, Clifford Kenyon (Kenyon 1945), on the precise terms of the agreement
with the French, Lawson confirmed that the prisoners would return to
France as free men rather than as POWs (see also Anon 1945s, 1945t).
Such a statement, of course, cast doubt over the conditions of their original
detention as POWs.
Concerns about the conditions of their return and the slow pace of
developments led some of the Spaniards to take their first bout of strike
action at the Chorley camp in early January 1946 (Anon 1946a, 1946b).
Eventually, nearly two months after Lawson’s December statement, in early February the first batch of Spanish republicans were able to leave the
camp in civilian clothes and ‘in good spirits’ (Anon 1946c). Many of those
remaining, still unhappy at the procedure, communicated a number of
demands via the Chorley Spanish Republican Aid Committee before the
departure of the next contingent (Tyrer and Bancks 1946). These included
a claim for the return of their property and money, seized on their detention.
As news of ‘repatriated’ comrades began to seep through to the camp
internees, doubts as to their living conditions in France emerged. Although
some money had been returned to them by the British authorities, the
French franc notes they had been given were not valid (Segura 1946).
Given these circumstances, some 110 Spaniards declared that they wished
to remain in Britain instead of returning to France to an uncertain future
Such a move had the backing of the men’s supporters: ‘What right has
Mr. Lawson to send them back to France?’ Freedom asked. ‘Forced repatriations
can only be made, we are told, against Nazis or collaborators’ (Anon
1946a) and ‘a last effort to obtain that they are not sent back’ to France
(Anon 1946d) should be made. A further hunger strike was commenced
in early March to pressurize the government (Anon 1946e; Lawson 1946a).
Part of this ‘last effort’ was the organization by the Freedom Defence
Committee of a protest meeting at the Holborn Hall, London, on 26 March
1946. The assembled public (estimated at 190 by the police) was addressed
by the ILP member Fenner Brockway,8 George Orwell (Orwell 1998: 158,
169),9 H.L. Hutchinson, MP for Rusholme, and the anarchists Marie Louise
Berneri and Mat Kavanagh. Apologies were received from Mrs. Braddock,
MP, and from Victor Gollancz, who was occupied in the ‘Save Europe Now’
Lawson wrote in April 1946 to say that there were about 150
Spaniards left in Adlington and that the French government had agreed to
take a larger party, having hitherto only agreed to take parties of up to
fifteen. It was hoped that 105 would soon leave in approximately a fortnight
(in the event, they had not yet sailed even by the end of May) (Drew
1946; Lawson 1946b). Supporters continued to campaign on behalf of
the remaining 45 Spaniards with a view to their settlement in England.
The Assistant Secretary of the TUC, H.V. Tewson, petitioned the Prime
Minister, Clement Attlee, to allow the Spaniards to work in Britain ‘as
friendly citizens’ (Tewson 1946). Attlee undertook to solicit the views of
the Secretary of State for War and the Home Secretary ‘as soon as possible’
(Graham-Harrison 1946). Less than a week later, it was conceded that
their settlement would be on a ‘strictly temporary basis’ and their status
would be identical to that of other aliens (Hewison 1946).
In response to one of the conditions of the men’s release in England
that stipulated that they should not become a burden to the local community,
the secretary of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council, H.
Newbold, undertook to guarantee work and lodgings for the remaining
Spaniards. Near the end of this prolonged process of displacement and imprisonment, at the end of August 1946 work had been found for five of
the men in stone quarries near Chorley and 37 others were seeking work
in Manchester (Anon 1946f). By early September, 11 were working in the
quarries but only 6 of 31 in Manchester had found work. For those that
had not been offered homes by ‘Lancashire folk’, the Trades Council was
providing board and lodging at £80 per week, including £10 pocket
money (Anon 1946g).
For those of the original 226 Spaniards who journeyed back to France,
in spite of the ultimate defeat of their social and political projects in Spain,
at least there was release from war, concentration camps and a return to
loved ones (cf. Fishman 1991; Hately-Broad 2005). For those who stayed
in England, a large degree of integration was experienced. Despite there
being question marks over whether the Spaniards could marry during
their stay in Britain,11 some 25 had in fact married British women by
January 1946 (Birtill 1976: 51). One prisoner, Julián Grimal, brought up
a family in Chorley, literally streets away from the camp and remained in
the locality until his death, working as a painter and decorator with his
son.12 Another camp internee, Pablo Lahera married Dorothy Elizabeth
Lucas and started to look for work in the Chorley area (Anon 1946h).
Pedro Cuadrado Hernández, who escaped the Nationalist forces by enduring
a long march over the Pyrenees in bitter conditions in early 1939,
married in Lancashire and settled in Bolton. This ‘Spanish Papillon’ had
escaped or survived a total of five concentration or internment camps and
had become something of a local personality, managing a restaurant that
gathered fame throughout the area (Thomas 1974). For others still, there
was a return to Guernsey where one man, Antonio Cortés, a member of
the Libertarian Youth, had a wife and child (Ferri Verdú 1945a).
The fate of Spanish republicans in the aftermath of the civil war – unjustly
displaced, deported, imprisoned and exiled – is already fairly well documented.
But this article is the first to construct a full account of some of
these Spaniards’ experiences at the Hall o’ the Hill internment camp.
Clearly, they were the victims of the chronic difficulties the Allies experienced
in identifying friend from foe and in obtaining accurate information
about what organizations such as Todt actually signified after World War II.
Specifically, this study shows how these difficult circumstances were played
out, not only on the international or diplomatic stage but, with very real
effects, in the life stories of individuals caught up in the conflict on a much
more local level. The story of the Chorley camp becomes in effect an ‘international
history of a local POW camp’, a view suggested by Bob Moore’s
analysis of the Glen Mill camp in Oldham (Moore 1996b). Some specific
constraints affected these Spaniards, however. The fact of their forced enrolment
in the Todt, the turgid negotiations between Britain and France on the
refugee status of Spanish republicans (Messenger 2008: 52–57) and the
‘statelessness’ of the republicans were obvious factors in delaying their departure. Under these conditions, and given the impossibility of return to
Spain, a negotiated solution with France appeared to be the best option.13
The Chorley Aid Committee was a typical manifestation of the international
networks of support for the Republic operating at the time, but the
letters and the provision of lodgings for the prisoners suggest a broader
dimension of solidarity with the displaced. One demobbed solider returning
from Palestine wrote to the Chorley Guardian in May 1946 of the ‘mental
distress’ that the internees had suffered. It was necessary to remember, the
letter writer observed, that these men were among the first to fight fascism.
Kindness and sympathy were called for: ‘As Lancashire folk are famous for
their generosity to less fortunate people, no matter what race or c[r]eed,
surely they can extend to these people the few small kindnesses which can
easily be spared and are needed so much’. Speaking from experience, the
writer knew how comforting ‘a cup of tea, a cigarette, an easy chair by the
fire, and a few kind words can mean’. Helping the Spaniards in this way
would help ‘create a strong bond of friendship’ (Sadsack 1946), a quality
also present in the kindness offered to Russian and other Todt slave workers
in localities such as the Channel Islands (Willmot 2002).
Such ‘humanitarian’ gestures remained in the personal and local collective
mentality long after the Chorley camp closed and forms part of the
history of this Lancashire place. Those who remained and became integrated
into local society, whether through marriage, work or friendship,
participated in what some British sociologists have termed a kind of ‘globalized
belonging’ after trauma and exile, where the local is to be understood
through the lens of global relations. This ‘elective belonging’ is
effected, not necessarily through historical connections with a place, but
through what John Urry has suggested is a process whereby people dwell
‘in and through being at home and away, through the dialectic of roots
and routes’ (Savage et al. 2005: 1). It must have been a courageous act,
perhaps a means of making peace with the locality, for Julián Grimal to
live within streets of his internment camp after the many routes travelled
to arrive there. Many internees also effected a kind of ‘ideological homemaking’,
whereby links were maintained with those ideologies they had
espoused in Spain by means of association with locally comparable organizations
in order to keep those struggles and their memories alive.14
The men’s lengthy detention is also an illustration of the limits of the
Labour Party’s support for the Republic and of its commitment to the struggles
of its exiles. Nonetheless, the local struggle to release the Chorley
Spaniards reflects how much ‘Spain’ still signified for sectors of the
Communist Party, trade union and anarchist left in Britain, and comes as a
marked contrast to the rather tepid solidarity from official spheres. For the
Republic’s British supporters, that struggle was part and parcel of the international
campaign for the return of the defeated Republican government, or
at least for justice for all Spanish republicans. Some of the prisoners themselves
saw their situation rather differently, however, and found it a not unexpected
consequence of the (predictable) perfidy of other democracies and the democratic model, which placed them in the position of ‘eternos rebeldes
frente a nuestro verdugo, el Estado’(Respina 1946; cf. Respina et al. 1946).
I am grateful for a small grant from the Instituto Cervantes and the University
of Leeds to enable me to interview one of the camp’s former internees, Pedro
Cuadrado Hernández, in 2006. This article is dedicated to the memory of Pedro
Cuadrado Hernández, who passed away on 7 January 2010. A further grant from
the university enabled research undertaken at the National Archives and local
libraries in the North of England. I would like to thank my subject librarian, Rose V.
Roberto, and Alison Cullingford and John Brooker in Special Collections at the
University of Bradford. The staff at the Chorley Community History Library, Marx
Memorial Library (International Brigade Memorial Archive), the Imperial War
Museum and the International Institute of Social History were helpful in locating
materials. Thanks also to Simon Duncan, Alison Oram, Bob Moore and Bill Williams
for comments and ideas, and to Dolores Long, the daughter of Sam Wild, for talking
to me about her father’s experience. The greatest thanks must go to Ron Marsden for
first putting me on the trail of the Chorley republicans many years ago and to Bob
Jones for sharing his initial research with me. Lastly, I would like to thank the two
anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this article.
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Richard Cleminson is Reader in the History of Sexuality in the Department of
Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Leeds. He is
also Co-Deputy Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies. His principal
area of research is the history of sexuality in Spain. His publications include
Hermaphroditism, Medical Science and Sexual Identity in Spain, 1850–1960 (Cardiff:
University of Wales Press, 2009), ‘Los Invisibles’: A History of Male Homosexuality
in Spain, 1850–1939 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007) (both with F. Vázquez
García) and Anarquismo y sexualidad (España, 1900–1939) (Cadiz: University of Cadiz,
2008). Contact: Dr. Richard Cleminson, Reader in the History of Sexuality, Department
of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, School of Modern Languages
and Cultures, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.
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